The Desire for Immortality: A Reading of the Maddaddam Trilogy
In the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood, the human race is characterized by a constant desire to achieve immortality. For the scientists at the CorpSeCorps, this means creating the Anooyoo Spa and the genetically mutated pigoons—symbols of society’s need to preserve beauty and prevent death. This idea of immortality is also demonstrated through the Crakers, who have no understanding of the concept of death and as a result exist in an eternal present. Ultimately, through symbols in Oryx and Crake and in MaddAddam, Atwood demonstrates that the desire to escape death is what leads to the death of society in the end.
Society’s need to achieve immortality is first demonstrated through the Anooyoo Spa— a place where people go largely to escape the effects of aging. As Jimmy describes, it is filled with “Cosmetic creams, workout equipment…pills to make you fatter, thinner, hairier, balder, whiter, browner, blacker, sexier, and happier” (Atwood Oryx 248). The Anooyoo Spa therefore becomes a symbol of society’s need to prevent aging and remain young and beautiful forever. Perhaps that is why when Crake creates his Crakers, he makes them all so beautiful—so that they never feel the need to change how they look. In the first novel, the CorpSeCorps also fund projects like “Operation Immortality” as well as the creation of pigoons, a genetically spliced breed of pigs whose organs were supposedly much cheaper than “getting yourself cloned for spare parts or keeping a for-harvest child or two stashed away in some illegal baby orchard” (Oryx 23). The pigoons, like the Anooyoo Spa, become a symbol of society’s need to live forever. And so when the human race crumbles, the juxtaposition of that failure with the thriving pigoon race once again becomes representative of humans’ inability to achieve immortality.
Despite the fact that they were created simply as a tool to aid the survival of the human race, the pigoons ultimately become a successful species in and of themselves. And in the case of the Crakers, Crake designs them to have no culture, no writing, no god, and ultimately no sense of mortality. As Crake describes, “Immortality is a concept. If you take ‘mortality’ as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then ‘immortality is the absence of such fear” (Oryx 303). In creating the Crakers without any knowledge of death, he effectively prevents them from ever needing more than what they already have. In this way, they already think themselves immortal. But what Crake fails to plan for with his Crakers is the fact that Jimmy’s stories effectively immortalize Crake as their God. In doing so, Crake himself achieves a kind of unintended immortality. And just as the pigoons eventually spiral out of control, becoming a species capable of threatening human survival, the Crakers evolve into far more than Crake had ever designed them to be. The Crakers, like the pigoons, are created as a means to an end, rather than as ends themselves. The scientists at the CorpSeCorps invented the pigoons to grow human organs and Crake created his Crakers in order to preserve the planet and its resources. But in both cases, the unintended consequences of each invention trumps each inventor’s desire to attain immortality—the scientists are killed off along with the rest of the human race and Crake’s desire to create an immortal planet fails when the Crakers begin to learn.
Ironically, the Crakers, a species created specifically to avoid the desire for immortality, inevitably stumbles upon it through the Gods Gardeners. Perhaps Toby was right in asking, “What can of worms have I opened…Have I ruined them? (MaddAddam 204). When Toby introduces writing to Blackbeard, she ultimately destroys Crake’s plan for his Crakers in that they now not only have the beginnings of religion with Crake as their God and Creator, but they have a sense of history and therefore a sense of time as well. If Crake believed that culture, the knowledge of death, religion, and all of those aspects of human civilization are what destroyed society, then his Crakers are doomed to hold the same fate as well.
Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy demonstrates that the desire to achieve immortality leads to downfall— first with the human race and now with the Crakers. Perhaps Crake’s contribution was not that he saved the planet from the greed of the human race. Rather, he postponed it a short while until the Crakers inevitably exerted the same kind of negative influence.